Orange County’s public buses are seeing sharp drops in ridership in just the past few days, amid public health concerns around the novel coronavirus and a recent public health order banning gatherings in public and outside homes.
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Transportation officials say there are currently no plans to waive bus pass or fare requirements amid the public health concerns, while cities like Santa Ana and others around the state are enacting working class protections like halts to evictions and utility shutoffs.
“The OC Bus system has seen a sharp decline in ridership at the start of this week since the health officials and the governor’s orders to have people to stay at home, avoid gatherings, and work remotely when possible,” said Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) spokesman Eric Carpenter on Wednesday.
Whereas ridership on the bus system averages around 125,000 passengers, “on Monday it was down countywide to about 75,000 passengers for the day,” he added. “On Tuesday, it was down to approximately 70,000 riders.”
The agency will “continue to assess service as the situation evolves and will notify the public of any changes,” he said.
When asked whether the agency will look at ways to ease financial burden on riders like waived bus passes or fare requirements, Carpenter said “not at this time.”
“We are doing our best to provide service to customers who need public transportation,” he said. “This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are continually assessing how to best do that. We will let the public know of any changes as they are made.”
The agency is also taking extra steps to disinfect and sanitize the buses and other public vehicles, with attention to certain areas on the vehicles — like handrails, seats, seat-belts and windows — that could pose public health risks.
OCTA has put together a Coronavirus Task Force “that is meeting daily and taking guidance from local, state and federal agencies, including the Orange County Health Care Agency and the Centers for Disease Control,” Carpenter previously told Voice of OC.
Transportation officials continue to grapple with the challenge of finding ways to get more people to use the bus system while at the same time absorbing cuts to bus service that have triggered serious declines in ridership.
In July last year, the OCTA Board of Directors made more public bus service cuts to cope with a years-long ridership decline, but backed off plans to slash some bus routes after objections from riders.
Of the 24 route changes originally proposed, 11 were modified and six were completely withdrawn since June.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.